December 4, 2008
First lessons from the Mumbai MassacresBy James Lewis
It now appears that 10 commando-trained terrorists with Pakistani jihadist training were able to kill at least 172 people and wound almost 300 more in Mumbai, India, over some five days. That suggests major failures among Mumbai's first responders, notably its armed police. It is likely, though not certain, that such an attack would have been stifled much more quickly in the United States, Israel, and perhaps parts of Europe, Russia and China. Similar terrorist attacks in those countries have been typically less damaging, although there have been cases of successful mass casualty attacks there, too.
India has faced jihadi terror attacks in the Kashmir for decades. It has a great deal of experience in coping with such attacks, but that experience has apparently not sufficiently benefited major cities like Mumbai. India also has apparently failed to penetrate the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, which itself has been penetrated by jihadi terror networks for decades. While some warnings were reportedly received from the United States, they were not passed up the chain of command, or not recognized against the background noise of less significant warnings.
The Mumbai carnage has triggered a major political crisis in the state of Maharashtra and at the national level in India. The Mumbai Massacre represents an immense loss of face and prestige for a modern India that has been developing with commendable speed and competence.
This sense of shock could ultimately be positive, since it carries the seeds of self-correction. The United States and Britain may be able to play a role in helping to train a layered anti-terrorist defense system for India that should be far more effective in the future. In the age of terrorism, no civilized country can be left unprotected, simply because the jihadis are in a state of war against so many countries that they can simply shift targets if some civilian centers are left unprotected. There are no permanently safe places.
Finally, the Mumbai Massacres teach some general lessons about the failures of intelligence infiltration in Muslim countries like Pakistan, which has a direct bearing on its fragile command and control of its nuclear weapons and missiles. The elected Pakistan government plausibly had no clear warning of the plot against Mumbai. Its intelligence apparatus, the notoriously fragmented and treacherous ISI, openly allows terrorist groups like Lakshar-e-Taiba (LeT) to run quasi-independent jihadi operations against India. If Pakistan cannot control LeT and its ilk even after the current crisis in its relations with India and the United States, it must be considered to be a failed state, a wild card in the nuclear proliferation game. An utterly unreliable Pakistan would carry major implications for American policy in Afghanistan and the Gulf as well.
When Iran obtains its nuclear bomb sometime next year, it will also need to maintain foolproof command and control over its weapons. Whether it can do so in the notoriously chaotic context of a Muslim state with multiple tribal, clan, and ideological factions is an unanswered question. In Iran, there is the additional possibility of a martyrdom ideology taking control of its nuclear weapons.
--- o ---
First, the failures of local first responders in Mumbai. Even at this time, so soon after the massacres, there are many indications that early responding police forces simply failed to properly identify the attackers, to isolate and neutralize them. A press photographer on the scene reported that armed Indian police simply did not shoot back at the attackers. That could be because of fundamental difficulty in distinguishing friend from foe, or because of a lack of non-commissioned tactical officers, or their equivalents, in the Mumbai police.
A set of SWAT teams could have taken over very early to do the job. The terrorists made difficult targets because they were trained to kill and keep moving, and they may have booby-trapped rooms, buildings, and bodies. They were difficult to distinguish from ordinary civilians. Nevertheless, when a gunman starts to shoot civilians, that is an unmistakable giveaway, and an organized tactical squad must be able to pinpoint each perpetrator, track them, pin them down, and neutralize them. The first responding police forces signally failed to do so in Mumbai. This is elementary small unit tactics. In the United States, police have such widespread experience with gun crime that very fast, on-scene counterattacks by local police would be nearly assured. That may be the reason why we have not (yet) seen such attacks in the United States.
Tactical command and control is crucial for immediate armed response. It requires the equivalent of a non-commissioned officer corps that is highly competent, and that is authorized to make local decisions without second-guessing by higher authority. Further, it requires excellent local communication. In the age of cell phones, photos of the attackers should have been transmitted to police headquarters and disseminated in hours if not minutes.
In the 9/11/01 attacks in New York City then-Mayor Giuliani established a command post near Ground Zero, and kept in personal touch with first responders as the disaster unfolded. That should theoretically not be necessary, but to coordinate different agencies, with (at that time) different communication systems, competing jurisdictions, and different tactical procedures may require ad hoc control by political, police or military leaders. The failure of first responders in Mumbai suggests that competing command centers were unable for some days to establish a coherent chain of command, communication, and control.
These are all problems that can and have been solved elsewhere in the world. In modern India, with state-of-the-art technology and an educated work force, such organizational problems can be solved if the political will exists to make it happen. If this generation of politicians cannot make that happen they should resign en masse.
The Pakistani end is even more snarled and resistant to solution. Pakistan is a dysfunctional state, in which ideological, tribal and clan alliances often count for more than national loyalties. While the ruling party may not have known about the plot, it certainly knew about Lashkar-e-Taiba and other long-existing jihadist networks which have been operating out in the open, often with publically expressed support from the Pakistan military.
Pakistan is a nuclear power, and therefore is a classic case of a fragile Islamic state with weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles potentially on hair-trigger alert. Pakistan's nuclear status makes it a safe haven for terrorist groups, since India cannot ever risk an open attack on its territory. The nuclear option therefore serves to protect terrorist outrages against democratic and fast-modernizing nations like India. As nuclear weapons spread ever faster in the next coming years, the identical problems of shaky command and control, or worse, will appear in Iran and perhaps other Islamic countries that are seriously exploring the nuclear option --- Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lybia, Egypt. In the case of Iran, the danger is made worse by the continued influence of an Armageddon cult in the ruling clique, including President Ahmadinejad and de facto leader Ayatollah Khamenei. If Iran obtains a workable bomb and delivery vehicles, its inherent instability, characteristic of so many Muslim countries, will continue to threaten the world for decades to come, even if adequate command and control is maintained over its WMDs. That is simply because Iran, of all countries in the world, may have a doctrine of nuclear use that contemplates a non-defensive employment of nuclear weapons.
It cannot be overemphasized for that reason that Iran and Pakistan must be surrounded by a picket system of anti-missile systems. That kind of state-of-the-art antimissile defense system already exists on US naval vessels in the Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, in the most explicitly threatened country of Israel, and now in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The Bush Administration has made great strides in developing and fielding anti-missile defenses, which may be its most significant and historic contribution to stabilizing the nuclear arms race.
There is no higher priority than to continue to develop such defenses at emergency speed. If the next administration fails to do so, threatened countries like Israel, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are surely going to do it themselves. We can therefore expect laser-based missile defenses to emerge as quickly as possible, giving the first genuine defensive counter to weapons of mass destruction since the beginning of the nuclear age in the 1940s.
A wholehearted American push for better missile defenses will speed up that process. We already have state-of-the-art defenses in the Atlantic, Pacific, Alaska, the Mediterranean, the Gulf, Eastern Europe and so on. We have the naval resources to place them almost anywhere in the world. A new generation of laser defenses will be directed from Boeing 747 platforms, potentially allowing even wider coverage. All of the endangered front-line states depend on us to a considerable extent --- but they will go their own way if the United States fails to lead.